Donna Hartley: Open Heart Surgery Survivor    

Keynote Inspirational Motivational Speaker, Author, Plane Crash, Cancer, & Heart Survivor
 California / Nevada Based Inspirational Speaker

Tips to Stay Healthy
Meditation to calm down and alleviate stress.
Guided Imagery to visualize your heart and body healthy.
Walk 60 to 90 minutes three days a week and get a walking partner
Use positive self-talk words and statements.
Exercise and yoga are excellent for stretching.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids as a supplement and eat fish twice a week.
Antioxidant vitamins C and E

Open Heart Surgery?  . . . But I Feel Fine

Doctor Berndt looked at me without expression when he matter-of-factly said I had about six weeks before a massive heart attack would strike. I suddenly got all quiet inside. He went on to explain that a normal aortic valve is 2.5 square centimeters (cm2) and mine was only .6, and continued aortic valve stenosis (closing) would cause a heart attack.

“How could that be? I protested. I’ve had a murmur since my teens and I’ve felt just fine. I have no chest pain and I’m not short of breath.”

“Are you feeling tired?” he asked.

I began trotting out excuses like a pony in a pasture. “Not really. I’m a single mom, I just finished up Christmas and, naturally, I’m tired. Why, just last week, I went cross-country and downhill skiing, and to aerobics class twice.”

“It’s not uncommon for a person to not show any symptoms until it’s too late. . . .”

Aware Doctor Berndt was talking, I really didn’t comprehend a thing he was saying. My focus was on my ten year old daughter, Mariah. She had already been through so much with me. After surviving a plane crash and countless failed relationships, I adopted a daughter at an age when most women were sending their kids off to college. The three of us, Mariah, me and my cat were a family and I felt complete. But life sent me into a tailspin when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma. Love for Mariah gave me the strength to battle the “Big C”, and win.

Driving back from the doctor’s office in Reno, Nevada to my home at Lake Tahoe, I tried not to think about the grim reaper staring me down, preferring to ruminate on what drove me to push for the appointment to see a cardiologist. I had no obvious symptoms, other than recurring dreams directing me to see a heart specialist. I knew from past experience my intuition was very sensitive and would nag me, even in my sleep. This time I paid attention and transferred my records from my small town doctor to, Doctor Berndt, a Reno cardiologist. He initially told me I was in excellent health, but my intuition drove me to ask for an echocardiogram and a physical work-up. The tests revealed my aortic valve was failing.
I tried to make sense of why this was happening, but my mind was a jumbled mess and all I could feel was fear. Before I left his office, Dr. Berndt gave me names of five top heart surgeons. When I heard the name Doctor Gaudiani, I said, “Stop. He’s the one,” absolutely certain he would be my lifesaver.
I knew from past experience to put a plan of action in place immediately. I meditated every morning, afternoon and evening, always including my mantra “Perfect Health, Perfect Surgery, Perfect Recovery”. I taped large sheets of butcher paper to my sliding glass doors and, when I became fearful, I penned positive statements on the paper: I am strong, I love my daughter, I am woman , hear me roar whatever it took to keep me positive. I asked my friends to place my mantra into their thoughts and prayers, got massages for my body and ate only natural foods, fruits, vegetables, juices, vitamins all unprocessed. I practiced guided imagery to envision my heart healthy and whole, and meditated three times a day to keep myself calm. Modern medicine is amazing, but only part of the solution.
Dr. Gaudiani of Pacific Coast Cardiac and Vascular Surgeons was reassuring, professional, and confident. I would eventually learn he was one was one of the best heart valve surgeons on the West Coast. He gave me a choice of either a mechanical valve or tissue (pig) valve. I intuitively chose the pig valve. He agreed it was the best choice.

Doctor Gaudiani’s office called within two days to say there had been a cancellation and my surgery was scheduled March 1 at 6:30a.m. I gasped, disconnected the phone and collapsed onto the nearest chair. How could this be happening again? That month and day had awakened memories of two life-changing events. I had already survived a fiery DC-10 plane crash on March 1, 1978 and Stage III Melanoma on March 1, 2002. Now I was facing open heart surgery on March 1, 2006!  I had only one week to prepare myself, to raise my confidence and insure that I would be a winner coming out of surgery, to stay on target and ensure I would remain alive to raise Mariah, and to be in the best possible shape for my medical team

I entered the hospital a day early to have a heart catherization. When I was rolled into surgery the next day, my team of doctors and nurses were positive and focused. My sense of well-being and confidence was as comforting as the heated blankets wrapped around my body.
The next I knew I was in Intensive Care. I felt pain in my chest, but I was elated to know I was still alive. During my week in the hospital, it was hard to breathe and to cough induced tears. My voice would fade out in mid-sentence. As a motivational speaker, I was terrified of losing my voice which meant losing my livelihood.

My doctors said the right attitude was essential to my healing. I visualized my heart pumping flawlessly, and said, “Perfect health – Perfect surgery – Perfect recovery”. My mindset was focused on living. I knew recovery would take time, but as a single mom, I had my support team, my friends and my family.




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 Melanoma Survivor Story

 Open Heart Surgery Story

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